Thursday, August 20, 2020

Hunger Pangs: My Breastfeeding Experience

 Even before we ever got pregnant, I had a feeling breastfeeding might not be in the cards for me. I knew so many people who had wanted desperately to breastfeed their kids, but for whom it hadn’t worked out. I fully understand that breast milk is the best milk for babies, especially preemies. I always wanted very much to be able to breastfeed my own babies, but I knew it wasn’t a guaranteed thing, and I knew there was no shame if, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out.

And it didn’t work out. For many reasons. I don’t feel guilt from society about it, because I know it was the best decision for our family. But I feel deeply sad about it. I grieve not being able to give that to my baby boy. Even as I write this my eyes are welling up with tears. I think it’s something I will always be sad about, even though as soon as we made the decision I was overcome with intense relief and a great sense of freedom. 

Everyone’s story about how and why they choose to feed their babies a certain way is different and intensely personal. I don’t pretend to know what’s best for everyone, and I’m not looking for validation or trying to justify myself and I’m certainly not looking for “why didn’t you try ____?” Or “so and so did this and it worked out fine.” I’m simply sharing my journey, and hoping that maybe it resonates with someone else out there who had a similar experience, and that maybe they don’t feel quite as alone in their grief.

There are a few things I wish I had known about breastfeeding beforehand. I had started an online breastfeeding class the day before my water broke, but had been planning on spreading it out over a few days to help keep me occupied over the next three weeks HAHA. This class didn’t cover in any sort of detail the things I wish I had known, and I don’t know that these would have been covered in a typical breastfeeding class (and I would be interested to hear from someone who has taken a class or read a book if this information was covered!)

What I wish I had known:

—I always knew I would need to pump when I returned to work, but I never thought I would have to pump before I even tried to actually breastfeed! Maybe that was naive. When you have a C-section, especially one significantly earlier than your due date, it takes longer for your milk to come in. I knew that, but I never realized that I would have to pump on a full feeding schedule in order for my milk to come in,

—or that the first few days hardly anything would be produced and that would make me feel like I was going through the motions of a really uncomfortable and mechanical process for what felt like nothing,

—or that preemies (especially boys) take longer to learn to breastfeed because it wears them out much more than bottle-feeding. Since they are already working harder to perform basic bodily functions like maintaining body temperature and breathing, they don’t always have the energy required to work for their food. Even if they latch and suckle successfully, they are often still not consuming as much as they need.

—Lactation consultants will manhandle you. It is not weird for them because it’s their job. But it’s okay if it’s weird for you. Because it is weird. Necessary at times in order to instruct. But weird. And uncomfortable.

—While learning to breastfeed in the hospital, you will likely need to just take your shirt off and be exposed to the lactation people and the nurses, and any doctors who happen to pop in during that time. Again, not weird for them, but maybe for you.

—I’ve heard it said frequently that very few women are actually not able to produce enough milk. What I never heard said was how hard some women have to work in order to be able to produce that milk! And that’s hard work on top of recovering from labor and/or surgery and taking care of a tiny, vulnerable, helpless person in addition to herself.

Maybe if I had known more of these things ahead of time (especially since it was likely my son was going to come early so all the preemie/milk coming in later stuff would likely apply to me) I would have been more mentally prepared to take on the challenge. Maybe.

In any case, I knew none of that and was just thankful that I was able to have skin-to-skin bonding with my baby directly after my emergency C-section. I know that is not something everyone has the opportunity to do, especially with a preterm baby. His nurse said his blood sugar was a little low and asked if it would be okay to give him formula when she got him back to the special care unit, even though she knew I was planning to breastfeed. My husband and I both immediately responded yes, by all means if he needs formula, give it to him. We had known our little guy would probably need supplementation since he had arrived early, and we were just fine with that.

While we were enjoying those first quiet moments with our son, the lactation nurse arrived. She was very nice, but began spewing a LOT of information and manhandling me and my son, all while my brain was still spinning from the anesthesia, the whirlwind of the day’s events, and the fact that the little person in my arms had only hours ago been kicking the insides of my belly. Needless to say, I did not retain much information.

The gist I got from her was that every drop of colostrum (the thick, early breast milk) would be beneficial to our baby, I have inverted nipples which would make it more difficult for the baby to latch but not impossible, and that I would need to start pumping 8-12 times a day starting now. 

After my son was taken away to the special care unit, she got me started with a hospital pump. She tried to get my husband involved, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was as overwhelmed and uncomfortable as I was. Watching the doctors cut me open and pull my insides out of my body was not a problem for him, but this was. Truly, it was an uncomfortable, awkward, and mechanical process that after 15 minutes or so yielded one whole drop. I had always imagined that breastfeeding would be a sweet, intimate experience, but so far I felt like a tired, manipulated cow. 

I finally expressed to everyone that I was feeling lightheaded and she got the hint that it was time for her to go. She urged me to pump every few hours the rest of the day, but I could take a 5 hour break at night.

Not long after she left, I got sick to my stomach, and as my nurse hooked me up with some lovely anti-nausea medicine to help knock me out so I could get some sleep, she told me not to worry so much about pumping today. “They always try to get you pumping right away, but you have to take care of yourself. You just had surgery, and you need to rest! As long as you pump once more before you go to bed, you can start fresh tomorrow.”

I was relieved by her words and pumped one more time that night, with no results. Annoyed and tired and confused, I then didn’t have the energy in me to go down to the special care unit that night to see my baby which was very hard for me. My husband went to see him saying, “No offense, but I’d rather be with him.” I totally agreed. Our baby needed at least one of us!

The next day, I knew I needed to get on a pumping schedule, but I wasn’t really sure how to start. The lactation nurse’s information from the day before was too much for my overwhelmed brain to retain much. Also, I had bigger problems, like getting up out of bed to go to the bathroom (ow), and trying to push past the pain and discomfort in my body to go down the hall and see my baby.

The lactation nurse came back around that afternoon and I confessed that I had only pumped one more time since seeing her 24 hours ago. She seemed somewhat concerned but said, “That’s okay. We can get you on a schedule now and you should be able to catch back up.”

Thus began my schedule of pumping for 15 minutes or so every 2-3 hours. After each pumping session, I had to wash and dry all of the pump parts, which added another 15 minutes of time. Because I was moving so slowly while recovering from my surgery, it was difficult for me to manage basic bodily functions (going to the bathroom, eating food, adjusting my position in bed, getting dressed, etc.) much less pumping. And any tiny bit of spare time I had I wanted to spend with my son, who, you know, this was all about anyway. But it was exhausting, so more often than I wanted, I had to send my husband off to be with him during his care times, while I sat like a cow, pumping with no results.

It slowly got easier. I forced myself to move around more and tried to ignore the pain and discomfort so that I could spend more time with my baby.  I started to slowly see results from the pumping, as all the nurses had assured me I would. I was so relieved that I had something to offer my baby, and I felt a renewed sense of hope that this would work out for us. 

When he was a few days old, the lactation nurse helped us as we tried to get him to latch for the first time. I was degraded to feeling like a high school freshman again as the flatness of my breasts was discussed. Because of my inverted nipples and my little guy’s little mouth, it was basically going to be impossible—at least in the beginning—without a nipple shield. An awkward silicone nipple shield was placed on me, and we attempted nursing. 

My baby boy did well, though he did appear to get worn out quickly. I was encouraged to try feeding him for a few minutes a couple times a day before his bottle. Sometimes he did better than others. One time when he was not very interested, I urged him gently to bear with me and just try and then he could have his “real food.” My husband immediately told me gently but firmly, “Stop. Don’t go down that path.” My eyes welled with tears. He was right—that sort of negative thinking wasn’t going to help the situation. 

When I was discharged on the fourth day, I was allowed to remain in my room and keep using the hospital grade pump I was assigned. I took advantage of my 5 hour pumping breaks at night, but every morning, I wheeled my pump down the hall to my baby’s room and parked myself there for most of the day. At least I was able to be near him, even though I had to pump frequently which cut into my time being able to hold him.

By day five I saw a significant increase in my milk supply. I finally felt a renewed sense of hope amid all the stress, but it was short lived. The stress was getting to me, especially now that my husband was only around in the evenings. During the days, I spent as much time in our boy’s room as I could, but I was tired of pumping, tired of having to hold him on a leash of monitors, tired of having to hobble around the rest of the hospital when I needed to eat, get water, or go to the bathroom (which is a whole unpleasant experience of its own after a C-section!), tired of not knowing when we could take him home.

I told the lactation consultant that I had had a very successful day on day five, but that I was no longer seeing those same results. She told me stress could affect it, that I was doing everything right, and that every drop I could give my son was valuable.

By the time our baby boy was discharged from the hospital, we had a set plan that I would continue to pump and we would give him whatever I made then supplement with formula. It was at about half and half, but his appetite quickly grew and I wasn’t always able to keep up. The setup we had at home was not ideal. I was pumping in a room by myself, then washing the parts in the bathroom to save myself time from going downstairs at all hours of the day. (I’ve heard that some people will just put their pump parts in the refrigerator between sessions, but I was warned not to do this with a preemie, as the risk of bacteria growing is higher.) Between doing this eight times a day, eating, attempting to sleep, and trying to spend as much time as I could with my newborn son, I was at my wit’s end by the time we had his first doctor’s appointment a few days later. I felt sure that if I could just try breastfeeding that my body would respond by ramping up my supply.

Thankfully, his pediatrician said that he had gained enough weight that I could try to exclusively breastfeed. I was so relieved to finally have a chance to do that! What I didn’t realize was that I should continue pumping while making that transition. I didn’t realize that my baby would not only get worn out while nursing, but he would not have the strength to get as much milk as he needed. I didn’t realize that the nipple shield would help him latch, but that his latch would be shallow, resulting in even more restricted flow.

I realized too late that I should have made an appointment with the outpatient lactation consultants right away. Instead, I waited a few days and called only when I started to see several warning signs that my son was not getting enough milk, the most obvious and frightening one being his voraciously sucking on his hands after a long nursing session as if he were starving. The horrible fear crept in that maybe I was not able to feed my son.

We finally caved and supplemented formula in a bottle for him, and I made the appointment. The woman on the phone told me among other things, “You’re going to hate me for saying this, but you should still be pumping after every feed.”

It was a long, sleepless weekend while we waited for that appointmet, and we compiled our long list of questions that needed answered.

I was afraid that the lactation consultant would try to convince me in any possible way that I must breastfeed at all costs. Instead, one of the first questions she asked me was how I was dealing with pumping. I got all choked up as I answered honestly, “Not great.” She could see clearly that the pumping was breaking me, and she offered as much information as she could:

—Our son was only getting about 6-8 milliliters of milk in a 30 minute nursing session when he would frequently drink 60 out of a bottle (no wonder he was acting hungry!!). So we would need to continue to supplement from a bottle. From what I was pumping over the weekend, we would be supplementing more than half formula.

—The nipple shield was helping him latch, but again, the latch was shallow and he was not able to get much milk that way.

—The consultant showed me how to encourage him to latch without the shield by manhandling us both. It was exhausting for both baby and me, and though it eventually worked, I knew I would not have it in me to do that at every nursing session.

—I did in fact have a low supply, due probably to:

-the fact that it took us awhile to get pregnant indicated that I probably have a hormonal imbalance which would affect my supply

-the fact that I never should have gone more than 4 hours without pumping in the beginning

-I’d been using the nipple shield and not pumping so my body assumed I didn’t need nearly as much milk as I actually did.

There were things that I could do to try to increase my supply:

  -pump longer and more frequently (?!)

-do 90 minutes of skin-to-skin daily (when will I have the time?!)

-only use the nipple shield after attempting to get him to latch without it 3 or 4 times (which would be both physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting for both of us).

She laid out exactly what it would take to get us exclusively breastfeeding within 3-5 weeks, though even then he would still likely need a formula supplement. She offered all of this without ramming down my throat that “breast milk is the very best thing you can offer your child,” and that if I chose not to pursue it I would be denying my child his fullest potential.

Instead, she recognized that I had been through a really difficult pregnancy after trying for awhile to get pregnant, that I would have to return to work at some point in the next two months, and that perhaps I was tired and wouldn’t want to spend most of my maternity leave pumping on the off chance that I was able to produce enough milk eventually, only to have to return to work and pump some more. I think she really wanted to be able to offer me a simpler solution, but she acknowledged that this was the best chance we had, and I think she could see without judgment what I was about to decide.

When my husband came home from work, I laid out all the information for him. As I was talking, we both knew what our decision would be. For my mental and physical health, I could not keep pumping. As much as I wanted to offer my son my breast milk, I wanted to offer him my presence more. I couldn’t spend the first two months of his life miserable and exhausted and stressed out, especially if it ultimately wasn’t going to work out. After all we had done fighting to get him here alive and well, I didn’t have any fight left in my body to feed him, and I didn’t want to make him fight anymore either.

Sometimes I wonder how it could have been different—

Maybe if I had been more mentally prepared for what I would have to do to get my supply up.

Maybe if I hadn’t received mixed information in the beginning.

Maybe if I had had better results in the beginning and had been able to maintain that momentum.

Maybe if I hadn’t spent five weeks in the hospital.

Maybe if I had felt like I’d been able to bond with my baby more and better in the beginning.

Maybe if I hadn’t felt so much stress and anxiety throughout my pregnancy.

Maybe if our country offered an appropriately compensated amount of time for maternity and paternity leave rather than an ambiguous unpaid 12 weeks which hardly offers enough time for such a major life change, especially when fathers are not afforded as much time as mothers so mothers are often left to their own devices while still recovering.

Maybe if. . .

Maybe if. . .

But it doesn’t matter—we made the decision we did because of the way things played out. Because this crazy pregnancy during this crazy year was already more than I ever thought I could handle and now that my son is here, I just want to be with him. I don’t want to split my time with a machine and feel that I can’t enjoy my son. Maybe that sounds selfish, but it was also for him. He deserves a mom who is present and not on the brink of madness.

As soon as we made the decision to formula feed, we felt immediate and intense relief. My husband was glad he wouldn’t have to watch me struggle under the pressure anymore. I suddenly felt free in a way I hadn’t in a long time—honestly, since before I was pregnant. Not being chained to a pump meant I would have time (albeit very little time at least for several weeks) to go for walks. To take showers. To do some writing. To drink coffee. To enjoy snuggles with my son rather than always watching the clock until it was time to pump or feed again. I was free for the first time in months to live my life naturally rather than clinically.

I admire women who are able to exclusively pump for their babies. I am not one of those women. I admire women who are able to breastfeed, especially when they have to overcome major challenges or still supplement. I am not one of those women. I admire formula-feeding women like me, because we know our limits whether we like them or not. I will always be thankful that I was able to at least try breastfeeding, and always sad that I wasn’t able to give more breast milk to my son. I know how valuable it is, especially for preemies. But I also know that he is a tough cookie, I know my own limits, and I know that I will be able to feed him and love him better this way. 

After we decided to switch to formula and I was weaning myself off the pump, I still cried every time I pumped as I watched my supply dry up completely.  It was like my body was mourning this thing that it couldn’t properly do for the life it had carried and grown. I still cry every time he is upset and looks around at me to nurse for comfort. I still cry when his little belly gets upset from the formula. I’m crying right now just thinking about how I couldn’t do this for him, and wondering still:  if I had tried harder, would I have been able to?

And then I remember all those nights in the hospital, with just the two of us, him kicking away in my belly and me wondering if we would even make it out alive. The fact that my inability to breastfeed him is the only thing out of this entire situation that I am grieving is absolutely a miracle. That doesn’t invalidate my feelings, but it helps me to reorient my point of view to one of intense gratitude. I am choosing to be grateful that I can feed my son, even if it’s not in the way I want to. 

So to all you mamas out there who weren’t able to breastfeed or had to stop early for whatever reason, I see you. I feel your pain. And I trust that our kids will be just fine. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020


We were so lucky that our sweet boy only needed to be in the special care unit for a little over a week. On Friday the week after he was born, we were given the all clear to head home.

It was a huge relief, because we were way over being in the hospital. The only reason he had stayed as long as he did was that he was struggling to keep up his own body temperature. He had gained back almost all his weight from birth, and was only one ounce less when we left the hospital.

We knew it was a miracle he was doing so well. The special care nurses kept saying that he was a little guy acting like a big boy. The worst had been the two days they had him on the special lights to try and lower his bilirubin levels (to fend off jaundice). He looked like a super cute glow worm/rockstar in the little sunglasses they had made for him. But we weren’t allowed to hold him much. 

It broke my heart to see him hooked up to all the monitors and off-limits. It was difficult to find time to hold him or do skin-to-skin between him being in there and the fact that I was pumping around the clock.

In the early days after my own discharge, which happened on the Monday after he was born, the “weepies” as I called them had set in as my hormones shifted. I was perpetually crying at every little thing. It became even more difficult when my husband had to return to work (it made more sense for him to take extra time off work after we got home. At the hospital our boy was being taken excellent care of whether or not we were there.) and I was left alone in my hospital room without either of my boys for the first time. 

On the first day of being there alone, the doctors came in and talked to me about the possibility of taking our little guy home in a matter of days, which left me overwhelmed by the enormity of caring for him. I hadn’t been able to breastfeed him much, which had been our plan. How would I manage to figure that out at home alone? Would we have to give him formula too? Would he be able to keep his temperature up? How would I know if he was okay without being able to see his vitals at all times? 

Thankfully the nurses could see the overwhelm in my face and made sure to reassure me that they would not send him home until we were all sure he would be taken good care of. Those nurses were incredible, taking such good care of our boy, but also teaching us so much about the special care that a preterm baby required. They made sure we understood the feeding technique with a bottle, and they, along with the lactation consultants, assisted me in becoming more comfortable with breastfeeding (something I didn’t realize about preterm babies is that breastfeeding can easily wear them out. It’s something they have to work up to, hence my need to pump around the clock to keep my supply up. I will be writing a whole post in the future about that learning experience!). They encouraged my husband and I to help change our little guy’s diapers and clothes and be as involved as possible in his care.

My emotions kept my brain swirling with anxieties and doubts about my abilities to care for my baby. At first I was just immensely self-conscious by how little I knew about preterm baby care. I was overthinking things and afraid to become involved. I quickly realized that I needed to get over myself and accept with humility that I was new at this and I would be clumsy at first, but the more I practiced and the more I learned, the better and more confidently I would be able to take care of my baby at home. I eventually decided to bring my pump into our baby’s room during the day so I could spend most of the day in there, going back to my room only to eat and sleep. That helped me spend more time with him, and also learn more and gain more confidence in my ability to care for him. 

At one point I worried that he wouldn’t know I was his mother because of how little we’d been able to bond and all the wonderful nurses who had seemed to care for him better than I could. My husband gently made sure I knew how ridiculous that thought was. Still, I had to remind myself frequently that though I was not an expert at feeding him or changing him or bathing him, I was an expert at loving him. Yes, I would inevitably make mistakes while trying to do what was best for him, but I would always love the crap out of him. And even though the nurses were all enamored by his cuteness and genuinely cared for his well being, they couldn’t and wouldn’t ever love him like I do.

By the time the day came to take him home, we were so ready. Ready to be free of the hospital. Ready to start our new chapter as a family of three. We were nervous like any new parents, but so ready.

As my husband went to pull the car around, the nurse who had accompanied us out asked, “So will we be seeing you all again in another year or two?” It took me a minute to realize she was referring to us having another kid. I laughed and answered, “We’ll see. We need to figure out what went wrong this time and see what we can do to prevent it from happening again.”

When we were all safely in the car and heading home, my husband in the driver’s seat, our baby boy in the middle seat sleeping soundly as if he were made for a car seat, and me next to him on the passenger side, I relayed the interaction with the nurse.

My husband immediately replied, “Nothing went wrong! Everything that happened brought us this perfect kid and we wouldn’t trade that for anything, right?” He was right, and the beauty of the moment made me tear up as I gazed at the face of our perfect, sleeping miracle.

When I saw the doctor this week for my two-week follow-up, we gained some more insight into what caused my complications. During my C-section, I remember being on the table and hearing my doctor asking the surgeon if she could take a picture of my uterus, which was clearly bicornuate, or heart-shaped. (She shared it with us later and it looked like a creepy valentine.) I heard them examining the placenta and discussing my innards, but at the moment I was way too preoccupied with the little life that had been living in there for the last 8 months. I knew she would fill us in with details later.

Fill us in she did. We had expected that I had a septum in my uterus (an extra piece of muscle separating my uterus into two sides) that could be removed simply in an outpatient procedure to help prevent future miscarriage and possible complications. As it turns out, there was no septum, just a clearly bicornuate uterus, which means two clearly separate horns, or cavities. That was why very early on when I started bleeding, the two sides appeared to be functioning independently of each other—our little boy was implanted and growing on the left, and the lining on the right was shedding almost like a normal period as if I wasn’t pregnant.

That initial bleed led to the subsequent hematomas, the hematomas led to the placental abruption, the abruption led to the premature rupturing of my water. The doctor told me that there was no surgery, no interventions that could be done to prevent it all happening again. Any subsequent pregnancies of mine would be high risk. Everything could happen like it did this time, or it could be completely fine with no complications, or it could be way worse and end in greater complications or even a loss. She even told me something she didn’t want to tell me before—when she initially reached out to MFM (maternal fetal medicine, the specialists who monitor high risk pregnancies) they told her straight up that I would have a loss in the second trimester.

That information hit heavily. I looked at our baby boy and said with more certainty than ever before, “So he really is a true miracle.” It’s been a lot to let sink in, and I think we’re still processing it, but for now we are even more incredibly grateful for our sweet boy and even more thoroughly enjoying our time with him. We are even more convinced that all of the prayers and support of all of you who have shared this journey with us are what carried us as far as we did and brought our sweet boy home safely!  THANK YOU!

It’s still a lot to take in, and I don’t think we’ll really fully process it until we reach a point of wanting to try for another baby. It will be something that will require a whole lot of thought, prayer, and consideration with the knowledge we have now of how things could possibly turn out. We are nowhere near that point right now though. For now, we are incredibly relieved that I am no longer pregnant, and that our baby is in our arms and no longer in my belly.

Our little miracle is home and adjusting well to his new life here as he grows before our very eyes (he gained half a pound in his first four days at home!) and I am slowly adjusting to life outside a hospital again. In the first 24 hours I was afraid to leave him alone in case he suddenly stopped breathing (again, I was used to having him monitored constantly!), and every time I went to leave the bedroom, I reached to put my mask on my face before remembering that I was home and I didn’t need to. #pandemiclife

It’s all a little surreal how it all turned out. Because my emotions are still somewhat unstable, I’m trying not to think about it all too much right now, and instead focusing on our baby boy and taking in each beautiful day with him.

Saturday, July 25, 2020


Thursday morning, I woke up shortly before 8 feeling like I had started bleeding again. I hurried to the bathroom, but instead of blood I just found some discharge, mostly clear and wet with little streaks of red and brown in it. After I got back to bed, I could still feel it trickling out. I called the nurse and she assured me it was just discharge that had pooled while I was sleeping. 

Not sure I believed her, I called her back an hour later when it had continued to trickle out. She said it was common for vaginal discharge to be heavier in the third trimester and it was really nothing to worry about. The resident doctor came in a short while later and said the same thing. My doctor came in shortly after the resident while on her rounds, and she seemed to appreciate that this could be something else. At the time, it seemed to have stopped, but she said to let them know if it got worse and they would check to see if my water had ruptured. 

About a half hour later, my pad was drenched. Thankfully, a different nurse came in just after this discovery to check on me. I explained it to her and showed her my pad. She told me that she heard my story earlier and thought from that that my water might have ruptured, and now she was almost certain. She went off to collect what she needed to check and I put my husband on standby. He was thankfully off work that day and was just waiting for laundry to dry before heading out to spend the day with us.

In the nurse’s initial check, the fluid was positive as amniotic. She said she had to send the other sample to the lab to verify, but yes, it appeared my water had broken. I told my husband to come out, but we didn’t want to tell anyone yet, because we weren’t sure what the game plan would be. I wasn’t having any contractions, and had heard plenty of stories of women whose water had broken and they didn’t deliver for another few days. We were just going to take it as it came, but we knew our little one would likely be here soon.

The nurse had told me I could go ahead and shower, and when I stood up, there was no doubt in my mind that my water had broken. I went ahead and took a shower mostly because I had been planning on washing my hair that day, and if I ended up delivering, there was no way my hair was going to get washed for a few days at least! So I took care of that one practical thing I could do, and by the time I was done, I heard the doctor and the nurse come in with a “holy shnikes” at the mess I had made when I stood up.

When I came out of the bathroom, the doctor and resident were there with an ultrasound machine. They checked and sure enough, all the fluid had leaked out. They explained that it was time for this baby to come out, but there was a slight problem—a woman at 35 weeks was already getting ready to go back for a C-section, and there was only one room available in the NICU. That meant there was a chance one of us would have to have our baby transferred to another hospital. Because I was only 34 weeks and 2 days,  my doctor said she would try her hardest to get me in first.

When they put the fetal monitor on me and she saw the baby’s heart rate, she said, “He’s okay but we need to get him out now. You’re going first.”

It was that moment that my husband walked in, and I laughed, “Who wants to tell him?”

Everything started happening very quickly after that. Thankfully, the OR was prepped and ready to go for a C-section, so it was a matter of getting me hooked up to an IV and moved down the hall. My husband and I looked at each other and were just like, “I guess this is it!” We were so ready to meet our little guy, and so taken off-guard by how things were going down, but we tried to just roll with it. I was obviously a little nervous about the surgery, but because everyone on our care team was so confident and reassuring, I was able to tamper my nervousness with excitement to meet our baby! And for this pregnancy to be over...

My husband had to wait in the room while I was taken down to the OR and prepped for the surgery. They gave me a spinal block, which was unpleasant for a moment, but my nurse and doctor held my hands and helped me breathe through it. I felt a little woozy during that time, but they quickly got me laying down on my back, and I focused on my breathing while everyone rushed around and the anesthesiologist gave me something to subtly boost my blood pressure.

I had to keep my arms out to the side (thankfully they weren’t strapped down), and I couldn’t help but think of Jesus on the cross—“This is my body, given up for you.” And I marveled at this way in which women have the opportunity to give up their bodies to bring new life into the world. I thanked God for everything, offered up all those I have promised to pray for, and then began repeating in my head and heart, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

My doctor, who was only there for moral support as the actual surgical OB would be performing the surgery with the resident surgeon, held my hand until my husband got there. I couldn’t feel anything or see over the blue curtain they had placed in front of me, but I felt like they had started before my husband arrived. I asked if he was coming, and a minute later he was there.

The anesthesiologist talked me through what I would be feeling throughout the procedure—some weird tugging here and there, some pressure, etc. My husband and I looked at each other excitedly, though he kept peeking to watch the progress of surgery, totally fascinated.

It was barely a couple minutes before I heard people saying, “There he is!” And then I heard him—his tiny little cry that even now makes me tear up with happy tears. It was the most beautiful, relieving sound in the world. They held my baby boy up and I have literally never been that happy before in my entire life. We grinned and laughed at his grumpy little face and marveled at how big he seemed for being born almost 6 weeks early. 

Apparently my husband was able to cut the cord and go see our baby as they got his vitals and cleaned him up. I was oblivious in my happy tears as I listened to him crying and the anesthesiologist talking me through what was going on.

Suddenly my husband and my son were next to me, and even though what I was experiencing physically was extremely uncomfortable and weird, I was overwhelmed with joy.

He weighed 4 pounds 15 ounces and was 18.5 inches long—a decent size for his age! The nurses were amazed that he was so big, and they were impressed with his lung function. His vitals were all good, and though we’d been told the chances were high he’d have breathing difficulties, he was just fine.

When the procedure was over, they placed him on my chest for skin to skin bonding, and rolled us back to the room that we’d lived in together for two weeks. The difference was that now we could see him and snuggle with him. We preferred it that way.

Honestly, I was amazed at how smoothly and quickly everything had happened. Whenever I had thought about having an emergency C-section, I imagined the absolute worst case scenario—waking up in the middle of the night bleeding profusely, my husband not being able to get there in time, the placenta being completely detached leading to horrible complications, etc.

But this happened in the light of day. Even as I was leaking fluid, I was incredibly grateful the whole time that it wasn’t blood! The OR was already prepped for a C-section, and everyone was ready to go, so there was no time wasted there. Though I do feel bad about hijacking that other woman’s surgery. . .I’m thankful that she was able to wait and they were able to keep her and her baby together too!

Though our sweet boy is in the special care unit, he is amazing everyone with how well he’s doing! They call him a rockstar and applaud him for acting like a big boy even though he’s a little guy. He hasn’t had any real trouble at feedings, and he’s hardly fussy at all. He had slightly elevated bilirubin levels today so they are keeping him under the special lights to take care of that. He has super cool teeny tiny sunglasses on and now looks the part of a real rockstar!

It’s hard not staying in the same room as him, but I’m trying to focus on letting myself heal knowing he is receiving better care than I am able to give him right now. They moved our room closer to his, so I try to see him as much as I can. Shortly after our first skin to skin time after his delivery, he was taken to the special care unit, and then I got sick from the anesthesia. They gave me some anti-nausea meds that let me sleep through most of the night, and my husband went to be with the baby. So between that, the pain and discomfort that follow abdominal surgery, and trying to pump every 2-3 hours (with no real visible results yet—just trying to stimulate my body to get my supply going, something than can take 3-4 days for moms of premature babies), it’s hard. Especially since all I want to do is snuggle with him!

Still, my husband has been amazing caring for both me and our son. He is absolutely in his element and so incredibly happy. We are both so relieved and overjoyed knowing that after everything we’ve been through, we finally made it.

The struggles aren’t completely over: we have the usual postpartum issues of my physical recovery and the challenge of breastfeeding, but also, our sweet boy won’t be able to come home right away.  As my husband keeps reminding me, “It’s a turtle race.” We’re making progress, and we’ll get there. They originally said it would be about 2 weeks before we can bring him home, but if he continues to rock at life the way he has from the very beginning, it could be less time.

And honestly, I was already planning on being here another 3 weeks or so anyway. I think it will be easier to tackle that hospital time now that we can see his sweet, perfect little face and hold his perfect little hands, and feel his little heartbeat—our flicker of hope—beat next to ours. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Chugging Along

Today marks 34 weeks, and three weeks until we get to meet our sweet baby boy face to face! It’s a relief to know that he is looking perfectly healthy and wonderful, and at a point in gestation where if he had to be delivered any complications at this point would likely be minimal. Also, having been in the hospital for over three and a half weeks now, we are more than halfway through our stay (at least, pre-delivery. But post-delivery will be a totally different experience than these long weeks have been.). It helps to know we are in that homestretch. 

The ultrasound today showed him looking great in all the measurable ways. I got to watch as he unclenched his fist and wiggled his fingers, and opened and closed his mouth, and his little body bounced as he hiccuped. It has truly been such a cool part of this pregnancy getting to see him grow and develop. I’ll be honest, even though we’ve seen more than 20 ultrasounds, I still don’t know what I’m looking at most of the time (even when the tech explains it to me, it still looks like a blurry blob!). But it still amazes us that that’s a little life swimming around inside of me. Miracle of miracles.

The scan also showed that the bleed from the abruption has grown about 1 cm, which explains the light bleeding/spotting I’ve had more days than not this past week. It’s still not enough to be immediately concerning, especially since our boy is still doing great. It has led to more monitoring sessions than usual this past week, which are admittedly annoying when they drag on for two or three or four hours. . .but they are all out of an abundance of caution to make sure there are no red flags.

All this to say that not much has changed. Our baby boy is still growing and living life to the fullest in my belly, and as long as that remains true and I don’t have any excessive bleeding, he will stay in there cooking. Again, that could change tomorrow, we just don’t know. And that’s why we’re here. I am confident that at this point there are so many people aware of and well-versed in our situation that if an emergency comes up, we will be well taken care of!

In the meantime, we’re taking each day as it comes. I have enough to do to keep me busy through the days while still getting plenty of rest. I started telehealth counseling today to try to start processing some of the big feelings I’ve had this pregnancy, which I think will be helpful. Although, I admittedly had a huge meltdown trying to figure out the technology required to fill out the paperwork on my iPad before I could start the counseling session (getting help for mental health should NOT ever be that stressful!), but we made it through.

And to be honest, I spend a lot of time just watching by belly as my son wiggles around and changes its shape in the strangest ways. He has taken to kicking the monitor almost as soon as the nurse puts it on him. Yesterday, he stuck his little bum out so much that the monitor slid right off. It was very much something his father would do, so I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose!

Thanks for sticking with us through this drama-filled journey, and for all of the prayers and kind words! Your support truly means so much to us. The end is in sight, and we will keep chugging along!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Another Week Down

We made it through another week! We are now at 33 weeks, which means only 4 (or less) to go before we get to meet our son!

The last few days as I’ve adjusted to life here at the new hospital have honestly been a little rough on me mentally and emotionally. This hospital is a little newer and nicer, and much smaller so the pace is typically slower. The nurses have all been really nice, and it’s been such a relief to actually see my own doctors on a regular basis. 

Last week was the first full week my husband went back to work though. Like I mentioned in my last post, we are not used to doing life apart from each other. He is wonderful and comes every day after work to have dinner and watch terrible movies with me, and spends his days off hanging around too. Still, I’m finding that there are too many hours in the day for me to think about how hard this separation is. And to think about all the possible worst case scenarios. 

It’s not that I don’t have anything to do—I have plenty to read and keep me occupied. I have just needed the last few days to become adjusted to the new environment and the fact that this will be my reality for the next month. I’m slowly feeling more adjusted, though, and I’m finding that dedicating real, mindful time to prayer, Bible study, and reflection every day has been immensely beneficial. It’s amazing how the darkness begins to fade when we choose to focus on the light! I know I owe a lot of that grace to all of the many people who have been praying for us. So many people have supported us through their thoughts and prayers, and I thank you! They are definitely helping!

Our Tuesday ultrasound this week was encouraging—our boy is growing at a healthy pace (even though I’m carrying low, this kid’s foot has finally found my rib cage!) and is still showing all good signs in terms of his organ function and movement. The placental abruption does not appear to have gotten worse, so that’s good news too!

It was all a relief to hear, but then I get that nagging negative feeling that all of our days of good news tend to be followed by scary bleeding episodes. But that’s exactly why I’m hanging out here in the hospital with daily monitoring. If something else happens, we will automatically have the care we need and won’t lose any time in an emergency.

We discussed with the doctor this week the terms of delivery as well. While at this point attempting an induced vaginal delivery would still be possible at 37 weeks, we all agreed that with everything I’ve been through and with all the risk still involved with an abruption, a scheduled C-section will be our best bet of a safe, healthy delivery. I would love to have a normal, natural birth, but I know that after all the anxiety and stress of this pregnancy, I would not have the physical or mental endurance to handle a long labor. And if anything went wrong during labor (as the chances are higher in my case that they would) an emergency C-section would have a higher risk of complications than a scheduled one.

I actually feel a lot more at peace having everyone on board with that decision. One of the reasons I love my doctors so much is that they really strive to allow for natural, intervention-free birth whenever is possible. And I always looked forward to that womanly challenge of giving birth naturally (or with drugs). But we all agree that this will be the best possible delivery choice for both baby and me given the circumstances. 

So that’s where we are. Baby boy is doing great, my body is stable for the moment, and at this point, we’re looking at just 4 more weeks until delivery. The end is in sight, and I so look forward to finally holding my sweet baby in my arms.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Long Haul

Last Friday, I had hope that we would get out of here on Sunday, or at least at some point this week. Sunday didn’t happen, so then I wondered if maybe it could happen Tuesday after the ultrasound, assuming the results were good. The results of the ultrasound were good—the baby still looks great, thank goodness, and the abruption has not appeared to worsen, so that’s all good.

However, good results were not the only thing to factor into the decision of staying or going. My entire pregnancy has been littered with bleeding episodes, and already having several in the third trimester was not encouraging. We listened to the opinions of many doctors, some who said that it was likely safe to go home unless I had more bleeding, others who recommended staying for the long haul, until delivery at 37 weeks. After discussing it with our primary doctor, it was decided that given my history of going from stable to “we’ve gotta go” without warning, continuous monitoring in a hospital until delivery appeared to be the best, safest decision to give our son his best chance.

The goal at this point is to keep our baby in there as long as is safe for him, and that will be best ensured by me staying here. And also, if the time comes earlier than expected for him to be delivered, we will be right here and won’t lose any time in an emergency situation.

Once the decision was made that I would stay, though, we also decided that it would be safe for the baby and therefore in our best interest to transfer to the hospital that my OB is at. It’s farther from home, but it’s smaller and we would be in the direct care of our doctor and the others in her practice, rather than a random rotation of people sent to check in on me and offer their varying opinions on my situation.

Once I was discharged from the other hospital, I had a window where I could go home for a couple hours. It was such a nice little break, but also overwhelming. (But to be honest, everything is overwhelming these days—hello, hormones!) I had a chance to open some of the gifts people had sent to the house from our registry, which was fun. My parents brought over a rocker that I had wanted from my registry, and I sat cozily in it dreaming of the day I would rock our son in it. My in-laws made us a delicious non-hospital food dinner, and it was a lovely break from the crazy.

We didn’t linger too long though, because I wanted to make sure my husband could be there to help me get settled in at the new hospital without having to get home too late. As soon as we got up to the maternity ward, we saw one of our OBs, and that was a comforting feeling. Everyone was really nice and accommodating as they got us settled in, and I only cried a little bit wondering if this really was the best decision.

Of course, when I woke up this morning and had some more light bleeding, I knew it was the right decision. Thankfully, the bleeding was mild and short-lived, but even if I had been at home, I would have had to come back in anyway for another few days. This saved us at least one stressful trip! The baby still seems to be doing well, and we are glad that he and I are in a safe place.

We know that this is all for the best, but that doesn’t mean the whole situation doesn’t stink, because it really does. I try to focus on the positive, but that doesn’t mean the negative doesn’t exist. The stress level is high. I am able to relax a bit knowing that even if I was at home, I would pretty much only be allowed to sit around and get fat (and by fat, I mean more pregnant, but let’s be real—it’ll be a bit of both!). But it’s hard to not be able to do the whole nesting thing. This pregnancy has been so hard in a lot of ways, and I never thought something as simple as not being able to wash, fold, and organize my baby’s clothes would bum me out so much. But here we are.

Thankfully family has been very helpful with all of this, helping to get things clean and organized! But it’s hard not getting to do all that myself. I used to think maybe I should have started it all sooner, but then I realized:  between all the scares we had in the first half of the pregnancy, and all the moving we did in May (while I was also trying to work as many hours as possible without physically overdoing it), and all the waiting around to see if Covid would lighten up enough for some sort of a shower to be possible later in the summer, we never had the time.

It’s hard to think that when I get home, everything will be completely different. I’ll be exhausted recovering from having a baby and caring for my newborn, all while coming home to a home that I have lived in for a shorter amount of time than I have lived in a hospital. It’s overwhelming now, and it will probably only continue to be overwhelming for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean I’m not grateful. That doesn’t mean it won’t all be worth it. It just means it’s really really hard.

It’s also been really hard having to adjust to my husband not being here all the time. We have spent very few nights away from each other during our five years of marriage. Saying goodbye was really difficult those first few nights when he slept at home last week. Then I began to actually rest easier knowing that he was in our comfy bed and not the awful lumpy couch in the hospital room. While he goes to work all day to provide for us, I know that sitting in the hospital room and staying pregnant is my most important work right now. It’s been really hard, and it’s weirder now that I’m in a hospital twice as far from home. But the struggle through the sacrifices that we’re making to make sure that our son has his best chance has also brought us closer together. His coming to the hospital every day to have dinner with me is what gets me through the long hours of sitting alone in my emotional uncertainty.

While our situation could be much worse, and our baby boy still seems to be healthy and doing well, and we have a lot to be thankful for, this is still really hard. If I think about the fact that I will probably be in here for at least another five weeks, it’s truly overwhelming and I can’t control the tears. Then I think it could possibly be shorter for me, but that would mean that we would have to leave our son in the NICU, which is something we would prefer to avoid.

After all we’ve been through, our greatest hope is that our son will be delivered safely at 37 weeks with no complications, and we will all get to go home together within a few days of birth.

I try not to think about how nothing has gone our way so far. I’m trying to focus on the fact that for today, we are all here on this earth, hearts beating and full of love for each other. For today, that is enough.